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Family Story and town history excerpts

A Sense of Place
In 1905 when Martha Louisa Dixon was born, the daughter of an Irish father and Norwegian mother, worldwide events occurred impacting both of her parents' native countries. Norway gained independence from Sweden that year, and Arthur Griffith founded the Sinn Fein political movement calling for Irish independence. Revolution broke out in Russia in January 1905 ending three centuries of autocratic rule by the House of Romanov. On the home front, Albert Einstein, a former patent clerk and one of the most influential scientists ever, proposes his theory of relativity. Theodore Roosevelt, serving his second term, was the country's 26th president under a flag of 45 stars. Two years prior to Martha's birth, Henry Ford was on the cusp of technology with his first experimental farm tractors with additional advancements soon to come. Lumbering reached its peak in 1905. Wheat was a major crop, but diversification was obvious, and railroads were built in almost every direction from the Twin Cities enabling goods to be shipped.

Born at home in Frankfort township on October 13, 1905, Martha Louisa Dixon was the only daughter of Thomas and Minnie Furtney Dixon. The infant was named Martha after her grandmother, and given the middle name Louisa for her Aunt Louisa Dixon Forsythe. 

During 1905, more than 95 percent of all U.S. births were at home. Additionally, the five leading causes of death in the U.S. consisted of pneumonia and influenza, tuberculosis, diarrhea, heart disease and stroke.

The Day the Barn Burned

"Our barn burned either that same year my father was killed or the next year, but I think it was the same year,"  100-year-old Martha explains as she relates the incident. "My father died in June 1910, and it was shortly after that that the barn caught fire. My mother went through an awful lot in a short amount of time.

"Mom thought somebody was up in the hay barn smoking. We were going down to Aunt Louisa Forsythe's house to play with their kids when Mom said, 'wait, wait a minute kids. I don't know if that's the chickens making dust or if it's smoke coming out of the barn.' So she went up there and sure enough the barn was on fire.

"It totally burned to the ground. We didn't have a telephone, so Mother got on the bicycle and started riding over to my uncle's house nearby. Meanwhile, they saw the smoke and met her halfway. I don't know how the word got around, but the neighbors came and our yard was full of people in just a short while. The only animals in the barn when the fire broke out were the horses, but they got them out. They had to tie them up pretty tight as the horses wanted to go back into the barn. There was no fire department, but people carried buckets of water. They kept pumping water from the big stock tank and carrying it. They didn't try to put out the barn fire, but tried to save the other outbuildings that were nearby instead. The granary and chicken house were quite close to the barn, as was a shed. They saved everything but the barn. Neighbors and relatives helped rebuild the barn the same year. They sawed the logs and in no time at all it was built back up again. They don't do that nowadays."

 Excerpt from Come Along and Remember
Stories Centered on the Life of Martha Dixon Gilbert

Acts of Courage

"The first day I saw combat [World War 2] is the day I got my Purple Heart while we were crossing the Seines River," recalls Tony Podolinsky. "I also got a bronze star because I fished seven guys out of the river. One of them, a new recruit, lit a cigarette when we were getting into the boats to make this river crossing. Of course, the Germans on the other side of the river saw that light and knew something was going on, so they laid down a barrage. One of their mortar shells hit an assault boat and there were about a dozen guys in the water shouting for help. I was hanging onto a cable and got out into the middle of the river, and was catching these guys as they were coming down. They were floundering in the water, and I managed to get seven of them out.

"In Normandy we saw a lot of hand-to-hand combat, so a lot of times we had the chance to slit the enemy's throat, but we never did. We let them live. And they did the same for us too. I never felt any animosity toward the German boys; many of whom we captured were only children 12 to 16 years old.

"Looking back, I never begrudged my time in the service. I was glad that I was in, and that most of all, I was spared. I still have nightmares even after all these years. Sometimes I hear a clap of thunder and I'm ready to hit the ground. You never get over it. When I have these bad dreams, I guess I think the war was the worst time of my life. Talking about it [World War 2], even today, brings back memories. It isn't something you like to dwell on very much.

"I think after I came back I realized that you can't become judgmental because there is always a circumstance that makes you do something. So, you're not so hasty to pass judgment about something; you think it through in your mind first. Life didn't really have more meaning for me afterward, but I'm certainly not afraid of death any more."

 Excerpt from Reflections of a Lifetime
As Remembered by Tony and Ollie Podolinsky

"Mom had a Singer sewing machine, powered by a foot treadle, much like the pedal on Uncle Leo's grindstone that was used to sharpen farm implements. Her sewing room was a pleasant refuge and actually one of the upstairs bedrooms that had a west exposure with two windows that looked out over the garden. In winter the afternoon sun came in brightly to make it cozy and warm, and often when we came from school, Mother would be up in the room sewing and singing to the rhythm of the treadle, which moved up and down with her foot pressure. This scene gave us a warm sense of security and well being. Mom was home, in her domain, and Dad would be coming for supper.

"We played with our paper dolls and against one wall was a day bed for taking afternoon naps. A huge closet extended far back under the roof and protected an old trunk that held many treasures that Mom would let us get into from time to time. The closet, we learned later, made an excellent place for our parents to hide Christmas presents, which the Jolly Old Elf delivered himself, in person, once a year on that magical night."

 Excerpt from Reflections of a Lifetime
As Remembered by Gloria Reel Budik

A Village Cultivates Its Roots
Jacob Vollbrecht left his homeland in 1856 in search of a better life, and slowly made his way to America. He reportedly gave up a coal mine inheritance in Germany after seeing the good possibilities here in America. Upon arriving in Hanover, he homesteaded 160 acres on both sides of the Crow River. 

"Uncle Jake first lived in a log cabin and was friendly with the Ojibwe Indians," Florence Vollbrecht Book reported in a taped interview in 1991. "They'd do things for him, and he'd reciprocate. It was not uncommon for him to let them sleep in his barn at night. As the story goes, this one night the Indians were sleeping in his hayloft. The next morning Jake had to take some flour down to St. Anthony. After he had paddled some distance in his canoe down the Crow, he glanced back and saw smoke through the trees. The Indians had accidentally burned down his barn and house. They apparently had been smoking and the hay caught fire. They helped him build a new cabin when he returned."

Early records indicate the small community known as Vollbrecht Mills wasn't officially named Hanover by Jacob Vollbrecht, in commemoration of his German birthplace, until much later. The little village on the banks of the Crow River continued to prosper as evidenced by the many new surnames appearing on the May 1891 township census. Part of the incorporation process, of course, was the agreement among town homeowners to confer their individual plats to form the "townsite of Hanover", which they all agreed to.

The small German settlement prospered punctuated by new homes, churches and a school minus any exorbitant exterior house architecture and opulent interior furnishings. By the early 1900s, Hanover had burgeoned to nearly 350 residents.

 Excerpt from Safe From the Outside World: A Social History of Hanover, Minnesota

It has been said that we do not remember days; we remember moments.

 A Child of War
"If you wanted to go to high school, you had to be in the Hitler Youth That was it; you had no choice. So I joined when I was ten years old. My brothers were in the Catholic Boy Scouts and really enjoyed that. Hitler and his gang decided no more Catholic Boy Scouts," explains Heidchen, "they're all going to be Hitler Youth. I remember discussions between my parents, and my mother balked. She didn't want that, but she had no choice. If you wanted to go to high school, you've got to be in the Hitler Youth.

"My brothers went to various camps and camped outside of town by the river. The boys would sleep there overnight; girls weren't allowed to camp." Just about every task, no matter how large or small, was turned into an individual, team, or unit competition. This included boys and girls' sports, the quality of singing during propaganda marches, and Winter Aid collections. Boys and girls were constantly kept busy. The Nazis capitalized on the natural enthusiasm of young people, their craving for action and desire for peer approval, hoping, ultimately, that each young person would come to regard his or her HJ (Hitler Jugend) or BDM (Bund Deutscher Madel) unit as a home away from home. In 1935, approximately 60 percent of Germany's young people belonged to the Hitler Youth.

Hitler Youth Becomes Mandatory
On December 1, 1936, Hitler decreed "The Law Concerning the Hitler Youth", which mandated that all young Germans - excluding Jews - would be "educated physically, intellectually and morally in the spirit of National Socialism" through the Hitler Youth from the age of ten onward. Parents who prevented their children from joining the Hitler Youth were subject to heavy prison sentences.

"As a teen, we had no social life. Picture the war: There was no social life. The only activity was after school some of us girls would go to a cafe and sit and talk. If you had enough money, you ordered a cup of coffee. That was a big deal for high schoolers, but it all ended when the war started because food was rationed. The outdoor school activities ended because of the danger of bombers flying overhead, even though in 1940 and '41 there was not much danger of that happening. Bands and public dances ceased as it was not fair to the soldiers fighting the war while other young people at home were dancing around and having fun," says Heidchen.

"Looking back over my teen years, in general," she reflects, "my life was uneventful and simple if you don't count the air raids and the war. You live from day to day to make sure you do your homework, go to school and come back, help Mother at home and aid in the war effort. I went out to the farms and tried to work on them and do stuff like that. I often went to my girlfriend's farm, and her mother always gave me a can of milk or loaf of freshly baked bread for helping out in the field. I never had a date during high school; there were no guys. They were all gone to the war, and so many never returned."

 excerpts from Now and Then by Heidchen Egert Budik